When it comes to Islamophobia, good old Europe – which after all invented the Crusades – certainly has nothing to envy the United States.
I’m already making plans to arrive at Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris in the spring of 2011 sporting my burqa. The cruel doubt is, which one? Shall I deplane swathed in the classic light blue I used to cross to Talibanistan? Or the slick black number I once used to cross to the tribal areas? The ultra-chic dark green I got at Peshawar’s bazaar, perhaps?
The mere thought of the possibilities once I disembark from Air France business class – where they won’t dare tamper with my burqa – and hit immigration, gives me such a thrill. Will they fine me 150 euros (US\$195) right away? Will they dispatch me to a “civic education” course? Will they simply denounce me to the fashion police? Better yet – will they call a Chanel representative and book me a show?
And what if I tell them that my wife made me do it? Will they throw her in jail and fine her 30,000 euros? Will they deport me on the first flight to Dubai and its burqa-congested duty free? Well, since I’m a man, and also a journalist, I can always tell them that I’m trying to infiltrate evil al-Qaeda cells in Europe, and this was a counter-insurgency burqa approved by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan. In this case, would I be able to walk away scot-free?
All these feverish considerations are taking place because the French Senate – with a momentous 246 to 1 vote – has just approved the motion for banning the Islamic veil all across the land, despite serious criticism by the State Council, Amnesty International and leaders of the Muslim community, who insist that the law “risks stigmatizing Islam” (that hefty 30,000 euro fine, by the way, applies to men guilty of forcing their women to wear the burqa).
Well, that’s exactly what minute French President Nicolas Sarkozy (“Sarko”, as the multitudes call him) always wanted; for Sarko the “veil is not welcome in the republic’s territory”. As for his justice minister, the uber-bourgeois, always impeccable coifed, and certified member of the Chanel-Hermes set, Michelle Alliot-Marie, she could not be more graphic, “The republic must be lived with an open face.” Sounds like a bad Lancome commercial.
Eminent jurists duly note that France risks being condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Anyway, now the premier Muslim community in Europe, comprising up to 6 million people, amongst whom only 2,000 wear a burqa or a niqab, is part of the first European state to censor the burqa. And it will not be the last; Belgium is considering a follow-up, and the truculent cripto-fascists of the Lega Nord in Italy are already extolling its cultural and security merits.
But it’s not just about the burqa. This being advanced, militarized capitalism, it’s about “dissimulation of the face in a public space”. And that also means all those suspicious hoods in anti-government demonstrations. Beat the dissenters – and when in doubt, deport them. It remains to be seen whether the law will be equally applied to those who when on a Maserati convertible resort to a Hermes scarf in order to prevent the wind from messing their coiffure.
All roads don’t lead to Roma
Quelle horreur. Over 221 years after the French Revolution gave the world the Declaration of Human Rights, France is being accused of a serious violation of human rights. And the plot thickens – it’s not about the burqa.
The righteous Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission (EC) responsible for Justice and Human Rights, has said it in plain English (being from Luxembourg, she’s also fluent in French): “This is a disgrace.”
The disgrace in question is the dodgy behavior of French ministers vis-a-vis the commission. Reding was fuming – according to legendary European parliamentary Danny Cohn-Bendit, former “the rouge”, now “the green” – because those suave French ministers lied to her straight-faced about the mass expulsion of Roma, gypsies from Romania and Bulgaria (15,000 of them live in France). Sarkozy fought tooth and nail for this deportation en masse – subcontracted to mayors via an avalanche of ministerial memos.
As virtually nothing of value can be learned by reading or watching the cowardly, Sarko-co-opted, bling-bling, trash-saturated French media, it was up once again to the invaluable satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine to reveal that a crucial memo by the Ministry of Interior expressly calling for systematic “important operations in priority against the Roma” came out of a meeting in Paris in early August. The Immigration Ministry had flatly denied it. The commission found out about it on the Internet.
For Reding, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She had to stress that the role of the commission as “guardians” of the European Union (EU) treaties was being sabotaged by Immigration Minister Eric Besson and European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche. And she went straight to the point, “There’s no place in Europe for discrimination based on ethnic origins or race.” As much as any legal procedure by the commission may take months, France was in fact politically condemned, and reminded that the country is not above EU laws.
Obviously, the Sarko bling-bling brigade reacted with fury, starting with His Master’s Voice, who with trademark politeness suggested the Roma should be deported to Reding’s own Luxembourg instead of Romania. The deportation is in theory “voluntary”. But there are not that many takers, even with a sendoff gift of 300 euros.
What drove the Sarko gang really ballistic was Reding, no holds barred, saying what many do not dare articulate; that these expulsions were eerily reminiscent of what had happened in Europe during World War II – when Vichy France collaborated with Nazi roundups of Jews and gypsies. Sarkozy as new Vichy is not exactly a sexy campaign slogan.
Guilty on two counts
Ever since his intolerant speech late July on security and immigration, the “incredibly shrinking” Sarko (The Economist got it absolutely right has been ridiculed across the European board. For the millions of Frenchmen and women who really cherish the myth of this being the nation of human rights, it’s a serious blow – worse than opening a tanked bottle of Petrus. Imagine the shame of France facing charges at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg on two counts (violation of law governing behavior toward an ethnic group; and not providing Roma deportees with judicial appeal in accordance with EU regulations).
But what did they expect? Sarko has the mentality of a provincial cop. Forget the glories of Voltaire, Montaigne, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Sartre; under his reign an ageing, fearful, reactionary, increasingly unemployed, increasingly trashy and manic-depressive France has been wallowing in a mire of hate and bling-bling. To top it off, it was Sarko himself who framed his mass deportation scheme as a top security priority even as his government remains embroiled in a maze of political scandals.
Woody Allen has used insanely glamorous Sarko wife Carla Bruni – which wackos in Iran have defiled as an “Italian prostitute” – in his latest movie, Midnight in Paris. Pity Woody didn’t clad Carla in a burqa – just to spice up the debate. Or he could have played her as a Roma – deported to Rome … A constantly fuming Sarko simply can’t get over the fact that his wife is taller, cuter, and infinitely more desirable than him. And on top of it she does not expel people living in France – well, as long as they buy her latest CD. Anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to my burqa face off next spring at the immigration counter at Charles de Gaulle airport.